Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: The Last Chapter

The way from here

 

The way from here
Grows narrow
A finely chiseled path
From this life
To a world as unknown
As life beyond
The womb

When did birthing begin
And when will it end?

Wondering out loud
I search for midwives
To encourage me now
As in the past
How many and for how long
I cannot say
As I set out on another adventure
Another letting go
Another arrival
Somewhere
Into the waiting hands
And hearts of those
Who love me in life
And in death

How do we learn to die? How do we learn to give birth? How do we learn to say enough is enough? Or no, thank you, I’m not going to opt into our reigning medical model of trying whatever can be tried in order to live a bit longer. Comfort care is one thing; unrealistic hope for healing is something else.

My waking dream this morning led to the poem above. The dream suggested I need help, a midwife or two, to get through the last pieces of my journey on this earth. I might even need to become a midwife to myself. Not just by reading books, but by seeking out professionals to help me navigate what lies ahead.

I anticipate writing and talking about how this works out for me, and commenting on books I’ve been reading. My major guide will be a palliative care doctor I spoke with today. She won’t replace my other wonderful doctors. Instead, she’ll help me work with medical personnel, family members and others. I’m not willing to stay alive at all costs. So how will I get from here to there?

Today has been an up and down day. Lots of emotion about making the telephone call, and huge relief when the doctor said she would take me on. I know this isn’t a very popular topic. So I’m especially grateful if you’ve read to this point.

With hope, gratitude and a teeny tiny sense of adventure for what lies ahead,

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2019
Photo found at bastyr.edu

Teach me to number my days

I inhabit moments
One after the other,
Not without hope

I witness resurrection partially
In passing seasons of my life
And repeated seasons of nature

Seasons of life
are once and over
living on in aging memory
and dusty memorabilia

Though my spirit revives
From time to time,
The clock ticks on
Without reverting to zero

I hope for what I cannot see
And choose to let go of certainty,
Falling instead into something
I’ve never seen or known

There’s sadness and agony
In daily and final death;
I’m invited to accept this
Not deny or sublimate it
As though it didn’t exist

Is hesitation to own
The agony of death
A denial of life as it is
On this side of
Whatever comes next?

In this life I’m called
To face fears, regrets, sorrows,
And the anguish of saying goodbye
Not once but many times over

Whatever comes next
It isn’t about denial or
We’ll cross that bridge
When we come to it

It’s about preparing for death
Every day of my life
Because it matters to me
and to those I leave behind

So teach me to number my days….

This is my attempt to put a few personal thoughts into words. I’m convinced this part of my life is about learning to die and learning to talk and write about it. Not the moment of death itself, but how I’m doing (or not doing) at living this last chapter of my life.

So this is where I am as of today. Thanks for reading, and for any comments you care to leave. I’m most grateful!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 May 2019
Photo of Masai Mara National Park Sunset found at brettstephens.com

Before I die

In November 2013 I wrote the following opening and closing lines of Why This Blog?

I need to say some things out loud before I die. I’m not knowingly staring death in the face, yet I know my days are numbered….If I don’t tell the truth about my life, I will die inside. I want to live, and I want my children and grandchildren to live.

I didn’t know it then, but this blog isn’t just about the truth of my life as I’ve experienced it. It’s also about my death. Not that I know the day and hour. I don’t. Still, it’s closer now than it was in November 2013—the month before I published my first post.

I just searched my posts. So far, not by conscious design, I’ve written about death 175 times (out of 1398 total). It seems I can’t let this topic go.

I find writing about death is comforting. I didn’t grow up in a family that talked easily about death or dying. Nor have I been part of a community or church that focused on this, especially as part of life.

I’m not a morbid person by nature. I am, however, keenly aware of my mortality. Not just because of my age and health issues, but because of the increasing disruption and unpredictability of life on this planet.

So what does it mean to die? Not just at the end of life, but along the way from here to there. And how does that change my daily choices and relationships? Especially with my family members, beginning with D.

These are a few things on my mind these days. Which is another way of saying I’ll be posting more pieces about death. I’ll also post other things as well–my take on the current state of affairs in the USA, photo posts from adventures with D, poetry, the occasional report about life with Smudge, and whatever else wants to be written.

Thanks to each of you for visiting, reading, and sharing your experiences from time to time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Portland Rose Garden

Why stick around?

My fingers wait expectantly
Pause, take a deep breath and begin

A brief list of reasons to stick around:

No.

A brief list of reasons I’m needed:

Maybe.

Trying to get my bearings
In this age of approaching death
With scores of unanswered questions
Littering every inch of every path I’ve ever taken

And yet
I felt needed back then
Fully awake each day to challenges
That meant something to somebody
Things that would make a difference

Is that all this life is about? No.

Perhaps I’m going at this the wrong way

Maybe I need myself
Just as I am

Not to be a hero
Or the perfect aging-with-grace senior
But to love myself
Especially those aging parts that give me grief

Not so they’ll go away and leave me alone
Though I confess to the occasional daydream
But because they need me

They need me to go with them
Through this brilliant terrifying valley
Of aging and dying with or without dignity

Besides,

Who else would hear the true beat of my heart
From the inside out

Or sit in the attic loving the silence of treetops
Dancing in the wind

Or play the piano feeling waves of music
Flooding my soul

Or understand the sweet comfort of falling asleep
While leaning on D’s shoulder

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 April 2019
Photo of a German forest at sunset, found at pixabay.com

Short Update on Life and Health

I can’t believe it was just above 70 degrees Fahrenheit today! Though it won’t stick around yet, it’s a sign that Spring is just around the corner. D and I enjoyed several outdoor walks in the last two weeks. The photo at the top shows crocus exploding out of the cold ground in our back yard.

As for my daily priorities, they’re simple: sleep, eat, exercise, write, play music, and read.

My heart seems to like this agenda, though it gets tired now and then. I just finished reading a memoir about living with atrial fibrillation. The author is in her early 80s, and has lived with AFib just about as long as I have. Her situation isn’t mine. Still, her straightforward approach to doctors emboldens me to ask more questions, and expect more evidence before consenting (or not) to go down this or that path.

As for my social life, it’s not number one on my list. Nonetheless, I now have several female friends I can visit with. No fixed agenda but talking, and going out for a walk as possible. Just what I was aching for. Also, with warmer weather I’m able to stay connected with a couple of my neighbors when I’m out walking.

Writing is easy, or it isn’t. No middle ground. The biggest challenge at this age is identifying in my behavior echoes of what I experienced when I was a child and teenager. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between what was done against my will, and what I do today. I’m grateful for regular phone conversations with a friend who has helped me for years. It’s hard work. A bit like filling in the gaps in my life, though I don’t always like it.

As for music, I’ve let my piano coach off the hook. He teaches at a local university, and ended up with more students and commitments than he could handle this spring. However, I’m going gung-ho on my own, practicing regularly and loving it! Right now I’m hooked on J.S. Bach’s piano compositions. I have three well-worn (from childhood) books of preludes and fugues, enough to keep me busy for rest of my life.

If you’re interested, here’s info on the book I mentioned above: In a Heartbeat: The Ups and Downs of Life with Atrial FIB, by Rosalie Linver Ungar.

I hope this finds you content and grateful for the life you’ve been given. It all flies by quickly. Thanks for being part of my life, especially in these later years I’m calling The Last Chapter.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 March 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 14 March 2019

Looking for friends

During the last several weeks I’ve been restless and lonely. I’m sleeping better and feeling more energetic than I have in the last four years. The weather, on the other hand, has been wildly unpredictable, requiring more in-house activity than usual. Still….

Retirement is heaven on earth. Right? Wrong.

My body has changed and my age keeps creeping ever higher. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t return to academic life with its regular access to interesting students and colleagues. My retirement playground sometimes feels like punishing confinement.

As a child and teenager, I felt left out and lonely most of the time. Not invited to parties, not allowed to go to movies, and not allowed many close friends. Not that there was a long line knocking on my door.

I thought I was over those childhood feelings. Yet they came crashing in on me this past week. Triggered by more than one conversation about a wonderful dinner party or get-together I knew I couldn’t attend even if I wanted to.

The truth is, I don’t want and can’t survive a busy social life. Neither do I want to become someone’s project. I want women friends. A few interesting, trustworthy women. Not for a fabulous dinner out, a trip to the latest show, or even to reminisce about old times.

I’m past the years of being a hostess. I’m beyond cleaning up for company, or trying to transform myself into the social butterfly I’ve never been. I’m also beyond being part of a church visitation team.

This is about connecting in person over a cup of tea or glass of water, going for a walk or not. It’s about regular face to face time with women who might also feel left out, forgotten, or simply in need of female company.

And no, I don’t expect you, my readers, to solve this for me. Though perhaps some of you have felt this way from time to time?

Thanks for taking time to listen.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 March 2019
Photo found at nationalpost.com

For women of a certain age

Restless mind and body
search for direction –
Ways to speak into the void
of life counting down –
One day and night at a time
Relentless

Heaviness hangs on my eyelids
I want to sleep – or do I ?
Maybe I don’t want to be
Awake

It’s easier that way –
And who would know the difference
between sweet sleep and
fear-driven avoidance?

For what was this body/soul created?

Maybe I missed something
In the directions for women
of a certain age and temperament

I’m more than a statistic.
Writing when Awake is dangerous.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 February 2019
Photo of sunset in the Black Forest found at pixabay.com

Evensong

My feet ache
relieved and resting
The humidifier hums
in the background
Soft cotton
envelopes each leg

Pajamas are my
evening friend
holding me close

Wrapped in
my mother’s shawl
breath comes
and goes easy

The old house creaks
beneath D’s feet

Whatever today
was about slips
away with each
exhaled breath
cleansing this
body I call home
sweet home

Today I went to see my Lucy Pacemaker heart doctor. As expected, my irregular heartbeat is growing with each passing year. I don’t like it. I am, however, grateful for each day and night I’m given.

While sitting in the doctor’s office I reviewed my recent journal entries. Then I read and reread a chapter from Upstream, a collection of Mary Oliver’s essays and poems. She describes how she moved beyond difficult situations of her childhood. Her solution was twofold: immersion in the natural world, and in the world of literature. As she describes it, these were “the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place” (p. 14).

So here I am, near the end of my life, finding myself living more and more in the worlds of music and writing. My own and that of others. My pared-down yet equally exciting (to me) version of upstream living. Leaving behind, yet drawing on the unsolvable puzzle of my childhood almost without noticing it.

I wrote the poem above just before Christmas. There’s something magical about capturing in words the simple wonders of my life. I might enjoy wandering in a forest somewhere. However, I choose to stay close to home. Close to D and Smudge. Close to the bone. Close to this last fling. Close to my journal and my heart.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 February 2019
Photo of Milky Way Night Sky found on pixabay

A broken heart

Days pass swiftly.
Time seems to be speeding by.

Yesterday I read another chapter from Mary Oliver’s Upstream,
and felt small and late in coming to this place.
Not by informed choice, but from neglect,
and ignorance about this world.

Held back. Stunted. Fenced in.

Living at best a half-life of external demands, distractions,
and danger looming around every corner.

Unsafe. Captive to other’s ideas, attitudes and power.

Now near the end, it seems
I lived a half-life that wasn’t entirely mine.

On quiet days I long for another opportunity to live
and taste life on my terms, from the inside out,
not as a timid onlooker into the lives of others.

Am I ungrateful?
Or just sad….even brokenhearted.

Perhaps a broken heart is a beginning, not the end.
That, and playing the piano as though
for the very first time.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 February 2019
Photo of path in Ireland found on pinterest.com

Making music from my heart

Last November I gave myself a 75th birthday gift – a piano coach! So here’s an update on my progress so far.

  1. I’m totally motivated to play the piano, though not the way I used to play it.
  2. Though I haven’t yet met with my new piano coach, I’ll soon begin working with him once a month.
  3. I’ve gone through most of my piano collections, have chosen five for starters, and am already practicing regularly from them.
  4. I’ve also been reading The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart, by Madeline Bruser. It’s phenomenal. Just what I need right now.
  5. Not surprisingly, my attitude toward life in general is changing, too. More from the heart, less from my to-do lists.
  6. My happiness/contentment quotient is on the rise.

Below are the five collections I chose for starters. I first worked with them in the 1950s when Mrs. Hanks was my piano teacher.

  • J.S. Bach: Two-Part Inventions, and The Well-Tempered Clavichord (Book 1)
  • Frederic Chopin: Preludes for the Piano (Book IX)
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words
  • Pianorama of the World’s Favorite Dances, compiled & arranged by Denes Agay for Piano

Here are three things I’m working on from The Art of Practicing.

  1. Mistakes (when playing the piano) are part of life. They aren’t the end of the world. Get used to them, and get comfortable with other people hearing you make them. I don’t like this, but I’m learning to live with it.
  2. Speed and agility will (or will not) come in time as my fingers are (or are not) ready. Forcing things, or assuming I can do now what I did 60 years ago) only makes things worse. As I already know. Sigh.
  3. Don’t get in a tizzy about speed and dynamics. Slow down. Ignore dynamics for now. Do what you can from your heart. Love the sound of each note and listen for the music within, not for what seems to be on the page in front of you. Trust your fingers to let you know when they’re ready. Magical!

Finally, I’m learning to accept the hands and flexibility I have now. This means some music I used to play is beyond me. No amount of forcing my fingers will guarantee the return of my youthful fingers. On the other hand, I just might be surprised down the road if I’m willing to take it slowly, without super-expectations.

Thanks for visiting, and Happy Wednesday to each of you!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 January 2019
Image found at pinterest.com

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